At the request of a reader, here is a brief discussion of “All Saints” icons:

In the Greek Orthodox calendar, the first Sunday after Pentecost/Whitsunday is Ἡ Κυριακή των Ἁγίων Πάντων/He Kyriake ton Hagion Panton — “The Sunday of All Saints.”  In Russian Orthodoxy, it is Неделя всех святых/Nedelya vsekh svyatuikh, with the same meaning.

If you are a long-time reader here, you will perhaps recall that we have seen a generally simple form of the icon of All Saints as part of the “Week” icon (https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/what-day-is-it-icons-of-the-week/), in which it represents Saturday in the seven days of the week.

“All Saints” (Ὁι άγιοι Πάντες/Hoi Hagioi Pantes) icons do, however, exist on their own.

Greek iconography tends to prefer the “circle” form, which looks like this:

In the center we see Jesus enthroned.  He holds the opened Gospels.  If we look at an example of the same image in a more recent icon of the same type, we can see the text more easily:

It reads:

Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμα[σμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου].

Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)

At upper left is the Prophet Daniel, and at upper right King Solomon.  Some examples have King David (called the Prophet David) at left instead of Daniel, in which case he holds a scroll with a text taken from Psalm 32 (33 in KJV numbering):

Αγαλλιάσθε δίκαιοι, εν Κυρίω· τοις ευθέσι πρέπει αίνεσις.

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous; praise becomes the upright,
which is also a part of the liturgy for All Saints Sunday.

Solomon holds a scroll with a text from Wisdom of Solomon 5:15, one of the readings for the Sunday of All Saints:

Δίκαιοι δὲ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ζῶσι, καὶ ἐν Κυρίῳ ὁ μισθὸς αὐτῶν, καὶ ἡ φροντὶς αὐτῶν παρὰ ῾Υψίστῳ.

But the righteous live for evermore; their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High.

At the base of the icon, we see the Forefather Abraham seated in Paradise at left, holding a soul in his bosom.  Some examples include a similar image of the Forefather Jacob at right, also holding souls, as in this icon:

You will recall these fellows from the previous posting on the icon of the Forefathers in Paradise ( https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/three-old-men-on-a-park-bench-the-patriarchs-in-paradise/).  To the right of Abraham is the image of the “Repentant Thief,” holding his cross.

In the circle around Jesus are the various ranks of saints.  At his feet is the altar table we find in icons of the Hetoimasia — the “Preparation of the Throne,” the throne being represented as an altar.  To its left stands Adam, and at right Eve.

At the top of the circle we see angels with the cross and symbols of the Passion, and above them two more angels holding open the doors of Heaven.

Russian icons of “All Saints” are commonly in the “square” form rather than the Greek “circle,” as we see in this example from 1616:

At top is Jesus in the “Deisis” form, with Mary at left and John the Forerunner (Baptist) at right, and many angels on both sides  Below him and between two angels is the “Hetoimasia” — the altar table “throne” prepared for judgment.  The rest of the icon consists of the saints, separated into their ranks or choirs (Slavic лики/liki), just as we saw in the posting on “Week” icons mentioned above.

“All Saints” icons commemorate all saints from the beginning of time to Judgment Day, and the image of the Patriarchs in Paradise is included as representation of the rewards of sainthood.



Here is another 14th century fresco image from the Vysokie Dechani Monastery in Serbia:

If you are familiar with the Bible — which fewer and fewer people are these days — you may recognize the story depicted.  Here it consists of three scenes, and the central scene is the clue to identification.

Here is the scene at left:

The inscription at the top tells us what is happening.  It is a variant of Acts 9:1-2.  Here it is as found in the “Elizabeth” Bible:

Савл [Саул] же, еще дыхая прещением и убийством на ученики Господни, приступль ко архиерею, испроси от него послания в Дамаск к соборищем, яко да аще некия обрящет того пути сущыя, мужы же и жены, связаны приведет во Иерусалим.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

So we see this image depicts Saul — who was to become the Apostle Paul — during his period of persecuting Christians.  In the image, we see Paul at right, standing before the High Priest.

The central scene depicts the Vision of Paul — the appearance of Jesus to him on the road to Damascus.  The top inscription is a variant of Acts 9:3:

Внегда же ити, бысть ему приближитися к Дамаску, и внезапу облиста его свет от небесе:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light from heaven.

We see Paul falling to the ground, as Jesus (in the “Immanuel” form) appears to him in the sky.  According to the account in Acts 9:3-7:

3 ἐν δὲ τῷ πορεύεσθαι ἐγένετο αὐτὸν ἐγγίζειν τῇ Δαμασκῷ, ἐξαίφνης τε αὐτὸν περιήστραψεν ⸃ φῶς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ,
4 καὶ πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἤκουσεν φωνὴν λέγουσαν αὐτῷ Σαοὺλ Σαούλ, τί με διώκεις;
5 εἶπεν δέ · Τίς εἶ, κύριε; ὁ δέ · Ἐγώ εἰμι Ἰησοῦς ὃν σὺ διώκεις ·σκληρον σοι προς κεντρα λακτιζειν
τρεμων τε και θαμβων ειπεν κυριε τι με θελεις ποιησαι και ο κυριος προς αυτον ἀλλὰ ἀνάστηθι καὶ εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν πόλιν, καὶ λαληθήσεταί σοι ὅ τί ⸃ σε δεῖ ποιεῖν.
7 οἱ δὲ ἄνδρες οἱ συνοδεύοντες αὐτῷ εἱστήκεισαν ἐνεοί, ἀκούοντες μὲν τῆς φωνῆς μηδένα δὲ θεωροῦντες.

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven:
And falling to the earth, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord [gr. kyrie]?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for thee to kick against the goads’ [a goad is a sharp pole  used to control an animal through pain].
And he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.”

The portion underlined in Greek and in bold type in English is not found in early Greek manuscripts, and occurs only in one 14th century manuscript, though it appears in varied manner in some Latin manuscripts from the 5th -12th centuries.

The scene at right depicts Paul — blinded by the vision, being led into the city of Damascus.  He is acting on the words spoken by Jesus in his vision, as the inscription tells us — again, a variant of a segment of Acts 9:6:

И Господь рече к нему: востани и вниди во град….

“And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city….”

Greek icons of the incident on the road to Damascus generally bear a title such as: ΤΟ ὉΡΑΜΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΠΟCΤΟΛΟΥ ΠΑΒΛΟΥ
“The Vision of the Apostle Paul

In Slavic that is:
“Vision of the Apostle Paul.”

Titles of this type vary, however,  so one may find instead something like “The Journey of Paul to Damascus.”



In an earlier posting (see https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/prepolovenie/) we looked at icons of the “Middle” — the church commemoration that stands between Easter and Pentecost — and we saw that they are of two types.  One shows Jesus as a twelve year old boy, seated amid the learned men in the Jerusalem Temple — the event called in Western art “Jesus Among the Doctors,” recorded in Luke 2:41-49.

The other icon depicts a different incident — Jesus as an adult, preaching in the Temple, as described in John 7.

Here is a 14th century fresco from the Vysokie Dechani monastery in Serbia, showing the first type.  It is interesting not only because of its iconography, but also because of its unexpected inscription:

We might expect to find as its inscription a conventional title telling what is happening in a scene, as in this 16th century fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos:

The Greek title of the image reads:


Some Greek icons of the type are titled simply:


On the Dechani fresco, however, we find this inscription:

It is neither a scene description nor a conventional title, and though the image depicts a New Testament scene, it is not an excerpt from the New Testament.  Instead, it is a slight variation on Kontakion 8 from the Akathist to Mary:

Кондак 8
Странное рождество видевше, устранимся мира, ум на небеса преложше: сего бо ради высокий Бог на земли явися смиренный человек, хотяй привлещи к высоте Тому вопиющия: Аллилуиа.

Strannoe rozhdestvo videvshe, ustranimsya mira, um na nebesa prelozhshe: sego
bo radi vuiskiy Bog na zemli yavisya smirennuiy chelovek, Khotyay privleshchi k
vuisote Tomy vopiiushchiya: Alliluia

Kontakion 8
Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; for this sake the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him: Alleluia.”

Now as I mentioned, there is another Prepolovenie/”Middle”/Mesopentekoste/Mid-Pentecost icon type — Jesus teaching in the Temple as an adult.  Here is a 14th century variant example from Vysokie Dechani:

It has an interesting added detail.  Jesus holds a large pitcher of water as he stands among those in the Temple.  We find out why if we look at the inscription above his head:

Whoever thirsts, [let him] come to me and drink.

It is taken from John 7:37:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come to me, and drink.

The “feast” mentioned is the Jewish Festival of Booths — Sukkot — which takes place in the autumn.  The odd thing about the speech of Jesus in the Temple on that feast is that if one took him at his word, he was not supposed to be there at all.

Earlier, his brothers had told him in Galilee that he should go to Judea and demonstrate his works in public, meaning at the festival.

Jesus, however, replies (John 7:6-9):
“‘My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but it hates me, because I testify of it, that the works of it are evil.  You go up to this feast.  I will not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fully come.’  When he had said these words to them, he remained in Galilee.”

That is followed in John 7:10 by:
But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.

In other words, Jesus told a lie.  He said he was not going to the feast, but later he did go “as it were in secret.”

This text, of course, has bothered a lot of people over the centuries, who do not at all like the idea of Jesus having lied, and in fact it seems to have resulted in someone at some time correcting the problem.  We have early evidence of this.  In Papyrus 66, a manuscript dated variously from the 2nd to the 4th century, we find that change.  Instead of Jesus saying “I will not go up to this feast,” it instead changes the Greek word ουκ, meaning “not,” to οὔπω/oupo, which means “not yet,”  resulting in Jesus saying “I will not yet go up to this feast.” By doing so, Jesus no longer lies to his brothers; he just tells them that he will go up to the feast later, after they have gone.

It is a clever change, but it does not seem to be the original reading.  The point of the exchange appears to be that Jesus does not want his brothers to know he is going at all, because when he does go, it is “as it were in secret.”

In Greek it is the difference between:

ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not up to this feast”


ἐγὼ οὔπω ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην
ego oupo anabaino eis ten heorten tauten
“I go not-yet up to this feast.”

It looks, in fact, as though the “not yet” was borrowed from the latter part of the whole sentence from which this excerpt is taken:

ὑμεῖς ἀνάβητε εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν· ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀναβαίνω εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν ταύτην, ὅτι ὁ ἐμὸς καιρὸς οὔπω πεπλήρωται
humeis anabete eis ten heorten. ego ouk anabaino eis ten heorten tauten, hoti ho emos kairos oupo peplerotai.
“You go up to this feast.  I go not up to this feast, for my time is not yet complete/fulfilled.”

So which was the original reading, “I go not” or “I go not yet”?  The manuscript evidence is divided, with some copies going with “not” and others with “not yet.”  Modern scholars tend to favor the former interpretation, which results in Jesus having told a lie, given that it not only better fits the sense of the text, but also because it is unlikely that an early editor would have changed “I am not yet going up to this feast” to the more embarrassing “Jesus lies” reading, “I am not going up to this feast.”  Conservatives of course prefer the option that saves Jesus from having lied.

It is interesting that the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry (c. 234-305), who opposed Christianity, knew the “I am not going up to this feast” reading, because as quoted by Jerome, he used it against the Christians of his time — another good reason for Christian editors to prefer the “not yet” reading when copying the text.




I watch the statistics on this site from day to day, and am always surprised by how many people read it (I suppose I could remove the cause, but not the symptom).  The number of followers seems to keep rising, with even more new people recently.

I am also frequently puzzled, because I can see how many people read certain postings from day to day.  Some days a large number of people will read one or another posting from the archives — apparently all coming here due to some kind of discussion involving that posting — taking place on another site somewhere — but just what that discussion is and precisely where it takes place is generally a mystery to me.

I also generally know nothing about the majority of subscribers, because many like to subscribe with the minimum of personal information.  Because some do contact me, I know there are art restorers, museum staff, dealers in old icons, artists, and quite a miscellaneous grouping of others among the now many readers of this site.  I always appreciate getting a note from new readers, telling me a bit about them and why they are reading such an esoteric site as this (recognizing your problem is the first step toward overcoming it).

I am quite an informal fellow, so no one need feel shy about leaving me a message now and then.

Now back to the usual topic.  Here is an 18th century icon from the Prophets Tier of an iconostasis at Kizhi, Russia:

If we look at the title inscription, we can see that the writer got a bit grand by writing the Greek word Hagios, meaning “Holy” (but in Cyrillic letters), instead of the usual Slavic Svyatuiy (and it is abbreviated).  The next word is Slavic — the abbreviated word Prorok, meaning “Prophet.”  And you should have no trouble, if you are a long-time reader here, in transliterating the third word — the prophet’s name — as Iezekiil — Ezekiel in English.  So the title inscription reads:

Hagios Prorok Iezekiil
“Holy Prophet Ezekiel.”

As you can see, Ezekiel is pointing to an image of a door.  And if we look at his scroll, we see it reads:


In the book of Ezekiel, we find this at 44:1-2:

Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary that looks eastward; and it was shut.  And the Lord said to me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it, and it shall be shut.

That gate is the “door” in the icon inscription.  In some Slavic translations, we find instead the word врата/vrata, meaning “gate/gates.”

Though it originally had nothing at all to do with a Marian interpretation, Eastern Orthodoxy developed the notion that this excerpt from Ezekiel was a prophecy and prefiguration of the supposed virgin birth of Jesus.  Mary as a virgin is seen as the “closed door/gate” shut and not opened, through which Jesus was born.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 390 c.e.) wrote:

Who is this gate, if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity.”

We often find this “Closed Door/Gate” title of Mary in Eastern Orthodox writings.  So that is why we see a door in the icon of the Prophet Ezekiel.


It is not surprising that the physical features of images of the bulk of Eastern Orthodox saints found in icons are simply imaginary.  Though there are some saints (like Seraphim of Sarov) whose icons bear a reasonable likeness of their actual physical appearance in life, the features of most icon saints were just “made up” at some point, leaving us with generic figures distinguished largely by the kind of garment worn, as well as by the shape, length, and color of hair and of beard (when present).  So we are left with imaginary images of a great many saints, identified specifically by the title inscription given to each depiction.

It is as though one were to decide to make a picture of the famous King Arthur of British legend.  We might decide to give him neck-length dark hair, make him a young man, clean-shaven.  We could then give him a crown, and put the title “King Arthur of the Britons” on the image to distinguish it from all other images of young, clean-shaven, dark-haired men wearing crowns.  Then if we were to say, “This is how Arthur is to be painted from now on,” it would be much the same as with icons.   These imaginary, generic icon depictions became standardized by being passed down over the years, though one still finds some disagreements in painter’s manuals on how this or that saint is to be painted.

Here is a fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, painted in 1547 by Tzortzis Phouka:

The title inscription tells us this is Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΜΑΚΑΡΙΟC Ὁ ΡωΜΑΙΟC — HO HAGIOS MAKARIOS HO ROMAIOS — “[The] Holy Makarios the Roman.”  His life is vaguely placed in the 4th to 5th century.

His name Makarios means “Blessed” in Greek.  But in iconography, Makarios can often mean confusion, because there were at least twenty saints by that name, and sometimes not only bits of their lives but also their representation in icons can become rather confused.

To give you an idea, here is a portion of another depiction — also a fresco:

It looks like the very same person, doesn’t it?  We even see the title Ὁ [Ἁ]Γ[ΙΟ]C ΜΑΚΑΡΙΟC — HO HAGIOS MAKARIOS — “HOLY MAKARIOS.”  But if we stop there, we will be mistaken, because what follows “Makarios” in the title inscription identifies him as Makarios Ὁ ΕΓΥΠΤΙΟC — HO EGYPTIOS — “The Egyptian.”  This Makarios is said to have lived in the 4th century.

Well, Makarios the Egyptian — also known as Makarios the Great — is not the same as Makarios the Roman.  We must also be careful to distinguish Makarios the Egyptian — who is also known as Makarios the Great — from his contemporary Makarios the Alexandrian, who obviously was an Egyptian too, but not THE  Makarios the Egyptian.

Now to confuse matters even further, though Makarios the Great/the Egyptian is often depicted as here, with a long beard and covered in hair, just like the first image of Makarios the Roman — Makarios the Great/the Egyptian may also be found in quite a different form, in a monastic habit.  There is even an icon type showing him standing with a “cherubim” (cherub), an incident from the hagiographic story of his life:

Because of this scene, even though the Greek inscription on the icon identifies him only as Ho Hagios Makarios, we know this is intended to be Makarios the Egyptian/Makarios the Great.

Similarly, there is an icon type of Makarios the Roman, depicting him with an element that identifies him specifically as “the Roman” just as clearly as the “Cherubim” identifies Makarios the Egyptian/the Great.  Here it is in an 18th century icon from the Skete of St. Anna on Mount Athos:

We see this Makarios — called Makarios ho Romaios here — “Makarios the Roman” — sitting in his cave with two lions.  Those two lions are the identifying element from his hagiography (aside, of course, from the ho Romaios in his title inscription).

But there is yet more confusion.  We have just seen Makarios the Roman with his lions, but there is another Makarios the Roman who has nothing to do with lions, and is from a much later date.  He is Makarios/Macarius the Roman “of Novgorod,” who is said to have died in northern Russia in 1550.  His icons show him much the same as other monastic founders of that region.  So now we have to distinguish this later Makarios the Roman “of Novgorod” from the earlier Makarios the Roman “of Mesopotamia.”

All of this is just to give you an idea of how easily things may be confused in iconography, and how careful one must be when identifying saints in icons, particularly when part or all of a title inscription may be missing.  Icon painters sometimes made mistakes, confusing one saint with another of the same name, and so in general, the best thing to do is to go by the title inscription — the name written by the saint, rather than strictly by the physical appearance.  When a title inscription is missing or incomplete, it is often impossible to identify a saint simply by appearance — except in the case of the most distinctive saints.




In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is an ornate, rectangular cloth used in the services of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  It is placed on the altar and on a table in the center of the church, and it is also carried in ritual procession.

In ritual use, it represents the removal from the cross, burial, body, and tomb of Jesus.

In Greek it is commonly called an Epitaphios (Ἐπιτάφιος) or Epitaphion, meaning “on/over the tomb.”  Russians call it a Plashchanitsa (Плащаница) — a “Shroud.”

It is decorated — commonly embroidered but sometimes painted, or both — with either the iconographic type of the Deposition (the “Placing in the Tomb”) or with the dead body of Jesus alone.

On Russian examples, there is generally an embroidered inscription around the outer border.  Usually it is the Good Friday Vespers Troparion, tone 2:

Благообразный Иосиф с древа снем Пречистое Тело Твое, плащаницею чистою обвив, и вонями во гробе нове покрыв положи.

Blagoobraznuiy Iosif  s dreva snem Prechistoe Telo Tvoe, plashchanitseiu chistoiu obviv, i vonyami vo grobe nove pokruiv polozhi.

“The noble Joseph took from the tree your most pure body, wrapped it in a clean shroud, and with spices laid it in burial in a new tomb.”

When that troparion is sung, the plashchanitsa is carried in procession before being placed on a table in the center of the church.  Often that table is ornamented with flowers and candles, and is the symbolic “tomb” in which the plashchanitsa (“the body”) is placed.

Sometimes, however, there is a different inscription, particularly on older examples.

Here is a plashchanitsa from the year 1662.  As you see, it has a long vyaz (meaning with some letters linked and others and pushed close together — “condensed” — by using larger and smaller letters) inscription around the outer border:

(Vologda Oblast Regional Museum)

In the center is a rather standard “Placing in the Tomb” (Положение во гроб  Polozhenie vo Grob) icon type, which the Greeks call Επιτάφιος Θρήνος — Ho Epitaphios Threnos — “The Weeping/Lamentation over the Tomb.”

In the four inner corners are the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

Let’s look closer to see some inscriptions:

By the angel symbol at left, we can make out МАТФЕ for МАТФЕИ –Matfei — “Matthew.”

Next comes МАРФА — Marfa — “Martha.”

Then МАРИЯ –Mariya — “Mary.”

And the woman below is ΜΡ ΘΥ  abbreviating Meter Theou — “Mother of God.”

By that inscription, we see the common IC XC abbreviation for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”

At right we see the inscriptions for ГОСПОДЬ САВАОФ — Gospod Savaof — “Lord Sabaoth,” God the Father.  And below him is the СВЯТЫ ДУХЪ — Svyatui Dukh — “Holy Spirit” in the form of a dove.

The face at the right is that of ИОАН–Ioan — “John” the Apostle.

Here is the right portion of the central image:

We see ИОСИФЪ —Iosif — “Joseph” at left.
Beside him is НИОДИМЬ —Nikodim — “Nicodemus.”  And at right is an eagle, the symbol here for МАРКО — Marko — “Mark” the Evangelist.

Now there is the long border inscription to deal with.  It might seem intimidating at first, but remember that when you see an inscription you do not recognize, the first step is not to throw up one’s hands in dismay, but rather to begin looking for any familiar words.

So let’s see what we can do by that methodology.  Here is the inscription separated into parts for easier viewing.  Remember that inscriptions usually begin in the upper left-hand corner, so that is where we shall start:

Let’s look closer at the very beginning.  It is helpful, when trying to decipher an inscription, to write the letters down:


We can put it into all large letters too, and transliterate it:

Wait — doesn’t that beginning DAMOLCHIT sound vaguely familiar?  It should.  We have seen it before in this earlier posting (and of course you remember everything in earlier postings here, don’t you?):


There we see it as the beginning of this text:

Да молчит всякая плоть человеча, и да стоит со страхом и трепетом, и ничтоже земное в себе да помышляет; Царь бо царствующих, и Господь господствующих, приходит заклатися и датися в снедь верным. Предходят же Сему лицы ангельстии со всяким Началом и Властию, многоочитии Херувими, и шестокрилатии Серафими, лица закрывающе, и вопиюще песнь: Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя.

Da molchit vsyakaya plot chelovecha, i da stoit so strakhom i trepetom, i
nichtozhe zemnoe v sebe da pomuishlyaet; Tsar bo tsarsvuiushchikh, i Gospod
gospodstvuiushchikh, prikhodit zaklatisya i datisya v sned vernium.  Predkhodyat zhe Semu litsui angelstii so vsyakim Nachalom i Vlasiiu, mnogoochitii
Kheruvimi, i shestokrilatii Seraphimi, litsa zakruivaiushche, i vopiiushche pesn:
Alliluya, Alliluya, Alliluya.

Let all human flesh be silent, and let it stand with fear and trembling, and let itself consider nothing earthly; for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes forth to be sacrificed and given as food to the believers; and there go before him the choirs of Angels, with every Dominion and Power, many-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and singing out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

And if we look at the inscription, we can see that even though our embroidered version says vsyaka plot as the third and fourth words instead of vsyakaya plot, we can consider that just a shortening of the word — such differences are common in old inscriptions.  But the important thing is that if we go on and write down and transliterate the rest of it, we find it to be very much the same as the “Da molchit” inscription we see in the earlier Eucharistic icon.  And we know from that posting that this text is the excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil, used in the Eucharistic celebration on Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in place of the usual “Cherubic Hymn.”

Here is the remainder of the border inscription, in case you want to practice your vyaz.  It is  read from top to the right border to left border to bottom:

Right side:

Left side:

Bottom left:

Bottom right:

If we look at the right half of that last bottom part — beginning near the middle, we can see this sequence:


It is not difficult to recognize three repetitions of ALLILUIYA — in English form Alleluia/Hallelujah.  So that just confirms that we have the right text, as we could see if we transliterate the whole thing bit by bit.

Да молчит всякая плоть человеча, и да стоит со страхом и трепетом, и ничтоже земное в себе да помышляет; Царь бо царствующих, и Господь господствующих, приходит заклатися и датися в снедь верным. Предходят же Сему лицы ангельстии со всяким Началом и Властию, многоочитии Херувими, и шестокрилатии Серафими, лица закрывающе, и вопиюще песнь: Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя.

There still remain some inscriptions we must deal with.  Of course you will easily read the ИОАНЪ/IOAN/JOHN and  ЛУКА/LUKA/LUKE inscriptions beside the symbols of the two Evangelists at lower left and right, but there are two longer inscriptions as well.

There is:


That is a variation on an icon title with which we are already familiar — ПОЛОЖЕНИЕ ВО ГРОБЪ/POLOZHENIE VO GROB/”[the] PLACING IN THE TOMB”

Here it is a bit longer:


[The] Placing in [the] tomb [of the] Lord God and Savior of-us Jesus Christ.”

In normal English, “The Placing in the Tomb of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Having disposed of that one rather easily, we can go on to the last inscription:


It means essentially that Dmitriy Andreyevich Stroganov (Дмитрий Андреевич Строганов, died 1670) had this plashchanitsa (siya plashchantisa) made as a donation to a church.  Dmitriy was  a member of the very wealthy Stroganov family that gave its name to a school of icon painting.  In the year 1647, Dmitriy and his father Andrey owned — among other holdings — towns, villages, and 1, 488 serfs.


(Prepare yourself; get cup of tea and a cookie or twenty, because this is mind-numbingly long)

In the liturgical calendar of Eastern Orthodoxy, there are five pre-Lent Sundays, followed by five Lent Sundays.  There is an iconographic image associated with each.

The pre-Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography are;

Here is a 14th century Serbian Fresco showing Jesus and his disciples at left, and at right Zaccheus up a tree.

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:

“Christ calls Zacchaeus out of the Sycamore.”

I have transliterated the Church Slavic inscription using a modern Russian font, but note that the original uses the old symbol for ot (meaning “out of,” “from”), which looks like a Greek omega with a small T atop it — in other words, a combination of o and t:

And in the word Sikomorie/Sycamore, it uses that same “omega” symbol — minus the T — for the letter o.

The story of the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus — a staple of Sunday School classes for little children — is found in Luke 19:1-10:

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at your house.

And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.


Here is another 14th century Serbian fresco, the image for this Sunday:

The title inscription, which is rather difficult to see in this illustration, reads:

“[The] Parable of [the] Publican and [the] Pharisee.”

If you are wondering what all those brackets are about, remember that Church Slavic — like Russian, has no definite or indefinite articles — no “the” or “a,” so we have to supply them for good English.

The  short words above the two figures are just abbreviations of “Pharisee” (Фарисей; the central figure at left) and “Publican” (Митар; the central figure at right).

Note that the icon is really divided into two halves, and we see two images of the Publican and two of the Pharisee.  At left the proud Pharisee is praying and thanking God that he is not like that miserable Publican, toward whom he gestures with his left hand.  Below him is the Publican, shown humbly striking his breast with both fists.

In the right half of the icon we see the Publican, represented as the righteous one of the two by the halo that is now given him.  Notice the ray of heavenly light extending to his head.  Below him is the Pharisee, skulking out of the Temple with no halo — a sign of his divine rejection because of his pride.

In the upper portion of the image, we see the long reddish cloth hanging from building to building.  This is the velum — the old standard symbol telling us the scene is taking place in an interior.  At the center of the image is the temple altar, shown in the form of an Orthodox Church altar.

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is found in Luke 18:10-14:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

Perhaps you noted the similarity between the prayer of the Publican and the “Jesus Prayer” repeated over and over in Russian Orthodoxy:
Господи Иисусе Христе, Сыне Божий, помилуй мя, грешного.
Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, Suine Bozhiy, pomiluy mya,greshnogo
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”


Ιcons of the Prodigal Son vary in their details and complexity.  Here is a modern page showing one Greek example:

The incriptions above the two figures in the foreground are:
Left:  ὁ άσωτος ὑιός — ho asotos huios — “the prodigal son”

In modern Greek, it is pronounced “o asotos eeos.”

Right: ὁ φιλόστοργος Πατήρ — ho philostorgos Pater — “the loving father”

At upper left the Prodigal Son is shown sitting depressed and hungry among the pigs, and at right we see him leaving the pigs and walking back to his home.

The rather lengthy and well-known story of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32.  I won’t repeat it here.

Note the signature in the lower right corner of the image.  It reads:

Χειρ φωτιου Κοντογλου
Κheir Photiou Kontoglou
“Hand [of] Photis Kontoglou”

If you are a long-time reader here (I keep saying that, don’t I!), you will not only be able to read that inscription on your own, but you will also recognize the name Photis Kontoglou (Φώτης Κόντογλου, 1895-1965).  He is noted for his 20th-century revival and adaptation of earlier iconographic styles and the creation of a new “retro” movement in modern Greek icon painting, which had a wide influence.


Another name for this day is “Meatfare Sunday,” because it is the last day on which believers can eat meat before Lent.

The icon for this Sunday is the Страшный суд Strashnuiy Sud — “Terrible Judgment” as the Russians call it, representing the judging of all the living and dead at the second coming of Jesus. Here is a 15th century example from Novgorod:

(Tretyakov Gallery)

Here is the link to my previous discussion of this icon type:


The icon for this day (as you might have guessed from the heading) is the “Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise”/Изгнание Адама и Евы из Рая/Izgnanie Adama i Evui iz Raya.  The tale is found in Genesis 3:22-24.

Here is a 17th century Russian example — a fresco from the portal of the Church of Nicholas Nadeina in Yaroslavl (in case you are wondering where the Nadeina comes from,  it derives from the name of the wealthy merchant who paid for its construction — Епифаний Свешников/Epiphaniy Sveshnikov, who was nicknamed  Надей/Nadey.  The church was so called to distinguish it from other St. Nicholas Churches in that city.

It depicts Adam and Eve exiting through the gate of Paradise, and an angel making sure they leave and do not return.  This image is often found in combination with other scenes relating to Adam and Eve.

The rather odd English name of this Sunday derives from the Church practice of making this the last day on which believers are allowed to eat dairy products such as cheese (as well as eggs) before the beginning of the Lenten fasting (they are already fasting from meat).    The Russian name for this day is Масленичная неделя/Maslenichnaya Nedelya — “Butter Sunday,” and the week before Lent is celebrated as МaсленицаMaslenitsa — from the Russian word for “butter” (масло/maslo).  Maslenitsa is a very old Slavic celebration dating to pre-Christian times, when it was the festival welcoming the sun and the beginning of spring.  The standard Russian food for Maslenitsa is блины/blinui/bliny — the little round thin pancakes made of flour, eggs, milk and butter or oil.  Their round shape represented the sun.

Another popular Russian name for this Sunday is Прощёное Воскресенье — Proshchonoe Voskresen’e — “Forgiveness Sunday.”

The Greeks call Cheesefare Sunday Κυριακή Της Τυροφάγου — Kyriake Tes Tyrophagou — “Sunday of Cheese-eating.”

Now we move onto the The Lent Sundays with their appropriate commemoration and iconography.  They are:


This celebrates the triumph in the year 843 c.e.  of those who favored the making and veneration of icons (the Iconophiles) over those who decried it as an unchristian survival of paganism (the Iconoclasts).  The main figures in the icon are the byzantine Empress Theodora, shown crowned at left, with her son Michael III.  In the center is the Hodegitria (“Way-shower”) icon.  To its right stand the Patriarch of Constantinople, Methodios, and Bishop Theodoros.

(British Museum)


As one might expect from the name, this Sunday commemorates Gregory Palamas (Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς/Gregorios Palamas, c. 1296 – 1359).  Gregory was an Athonite monk and prominent defender of Hesychasm — the meditative practice in Eastern Orthodoxy — and its theology.  He later became Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and was glorified as a saint in 1368.  Here is a 15th century Greek icon of him:

(Pushkin Museum)

The inscription is rather worn, but still legible.  The top line is read from the left to right sides, and the remainder also from left to right.  Here is the left side:

At the top is the partly-obliterated Ὁ Άγιος/Ho Hagios/”The Holy,” followed by a word divided into two parts — Αρχιεπί-σκοπος/Arkhiepiskopos/”Archbishop.”

And here is the right:

At top is the name Γρηγόριος/Gregorios/”Gregory,” followed by two divided words.  The first is Θεσσαλονί-κης/Thessalonikes/”of-Thessaloniki, and the second is  Ὁ Παλα-μάς/Ho Palamas/”the Palamas.”

If we put them together as they are meant to be read, we get:
Άγιος Γρηγόριος Αρχιεπίσκοπος Θεσσαλονίκης Ὁ Παλαμάς
Ho Hagios Gregorios Arkhiepiskopos Thessalonikes Ho Palamas
“The Holy Gregory, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, (the) Palamas”

It may seem peculiar that there is a major Sunday commemoration just for Gregory; the thinking behind it is that the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy celebrates the victory of the Iconophiles over the Iconoclasts (considered “heretics” in Eastern Orthodoxy), and Gregory’s triumph over those opposing the practice of Hesychasm similarly was another victory of what came to be considered Orthodoxy over opposing doctrines.


There are two icons generally associated with this day.  The first is the same as that for the Major church feast called the “Elevation of the Cross.”  Here is a 19th century Russian example:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

The Inscription at the top reads:
“Elevation of the Honorable Cross of the Lord.”

The icon depicts the raising of the cross on which Jesus was crucified for the veneration of the people of Jerusalem.  St. Helena — mother of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized and supported Christianity in the Roman Empire — according to legend discovered the cross of Jesus buried in Jerusalem in 326 c.e.  In the icon Helena stands at left, and on the left side of the cross is Bishop Makariy/Makarios/Macarius of Jerusalem, and on the other side another bishop.

The second icon associated with the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross is the type generally called simply ПОКЛОНЕНИЕ КРЕСТА — POKLONENIE KRESTA — “Veneration of the Cross.”  Here is a 12th century Russian example.

(Tretyakov Gallery)

It depicts the empty cross ornamented with a wreath, standing on Golgotha with the skull of Adam visible within the hill.  At left is the sun, and at right the moon.  The Archangel Michael is at left, holding the spear of the crucifixion, and at right is the Archangel Gabriel, holding the sponge on a reed.  In the sky above are six-winged cherubim at the sides, and at each side of the upper bar of the cross are seraphim bearing ripida — the ceremonial fans used in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.

The liturgical phrase associated with the Veneration of the Cross (and found on countless Crucifixion icons) is:



“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”


This day commemorates the 6th-7th century monk and writer Ἰωάννης τῆς Κλίμακος/Ioannes tes Klimakos/John of the Ladder.  The Russians call him Иоанн Лествичник/ Ioann Lestvichnik/John the Ladder-guy.  He is discussed — along with the icon of the “Ladder of John Klimakos” — in this previous posting:

This commemoration celebrates the effort and virtue needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here is a 13th century icon of John Klimakos from the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai, where he was abbot:

The title inscription is easy; it reads:

Ὁ ἉγιοςἸωάννης ὁ τῆς Κλίμακος
Ho Hagios Ioannes ho tes Klimakos
“The Holy John the [one of the] Ladder”


Mary of Egypt is one of the most common figures in Russian icons.  Traditionally, she was a desert ascetic living in the wilds in the region of the Jordan River.  She and her iconography are discussed in this previous posting:


This commemoration calls to mind the importance of repentance (Mary was once a raging nymphomaniac).

Here is a Russian icon of her:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads simply:
“Holy Venerable Mary of Egypt.”

If you managed to get through this posting, you are either a very serious student of icons, or you have nothing else at all to do.  I hope it is the former, but I have my suspicions.